CD, December 1998, BBV Audios.
Starring Nicholas Briggs.
Written by Nicholas Briggs. Music by Harvey Summers.
Between Justyce and Vital Signs.
“When someone leaves the room like that it usually means they want to be alone.”
“Are you? Alone, I mean.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure… but it did occur to me that your mind must be so full of other people’s words and faces… full of things you’ve witnessed… it’s not like a memory, is it? Not something you can colour and shape… it’s there… immediate… as if it’s happening all over again.”
“the functions of the implant are entirely separate from my conscious mind.”
“Is that what it says in the brochure?”
“it’s a nice theory, isn’t it?”
As I previously mentioned in the review of Guests for the Night, there was a series of twenty-seven Doctor Who fan audio dramas called AudioVisuals. After the demise of this group Bill Baggs formed his own organisation BBV. For some reason, for the seventh BBV audio drama he decided to continue from where AudioVisuals left off. In the end, all that came of it were two productions featuring Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor. This is the first. There now follows a relevant section from the Justyce.org website. Presented here in case the site should suddenly disappear one day, is an excerpt from an interview with Nicholas Briggs:
Do you feel that the two ‘Fred’ plays were a continuation from the end of the AVs?
That’s what Bill wanted. In many ways, I was very uncomfortable doing them. But this was when I thought there was no hope of the BBC doing or licensing new Who audio. Bill was worried about getting sued by the BBC, so he wanted to further distance his ‘Who Clone’ products by casting someone who hadn’t been the Doctor (officially)… Me! I was very reluctant, but Bill was relentless and persuasive. I was doing Children In Need with him at the time. He’d given me a lot of very well paid work on that (for which I was and am extremely grateful) and consequently I felt it was almost ungrateful for me to say no. I kind of felt obliged. He would phone me very early in the morning (he was doing Breakfast TV editing), when he knew I wasn’t yet up, and give me a psychological battering. He was very determined. He *is* very determined. It’s his great strength; but it’s a bit wearing at 7am! He told me to write Doctor Who, but find some clever way of making it lawyer-proof!
Did you enjoy making Cyber-Hunt?
Yes. It was great fun. Bill did the recording and I directed. We worked very well together. Bill has a very good ear for picking up on stuff that is monotonous and needs a change of pace. He was also very good at suggesting extra lines so that certain characters were more obviously in a scene from the beginning. It’s a common fault with audio writers that they forget that a character is invisible if they don’t speak.
To what extent were the original team involved? (Bill, John, Alistair etc…)
Just Bill and me. I did the post-prod editing and Harvey Summers did the music. It overran a little, which Bill really moaned and moaned about (quite rightly), so there are some cut scenes… somewhere!
There would follow, one more Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor story Vital Signs, but several nods to the AudioVisuals will pop up in books and later, BBV video productions. (The planet Calfadoria is mentioned in Gary Russell’s Business Unusual; a Drudger will be seen in In Memory Alone; The Temperon will appear in the first Big Finish production The Sirens of Time.)
In much the same vein as all the preceding stories we have a man who is definitely not The Doctor who travels freely through time and space in his, er, box. And this story features Cyberons, a race of cyborgs humanoids in silver with voices exactly like 80s Cybermen, but which are definitely not Cybermen – get it? If I say these are not licenced by the BBC you will understand the slightly different names.
The Tellurian Space Ship, Fearless, enters orbit around U49NT (Carson’s Planet) during the Cyber Wars. Embedded with the military crew is the journalist, Olivia. A journalist so hungry she’s had a camera implanted in her eye, a computer implanted in her head, along with a transmitter to send her reports back home.
The Fearless has arrived too late and missed the battle on the planet surface. The only survivor left down there is a damaged 8ft tall “Class 7-A Cyberon Warrior”. Captain Halloran decides to lead a team down on a trophy hunt, much to the dismay of Olivia.
Meanwhile, The Doctor has landed on Carson’s Planet having come directly from Salaados. He sees the silent land as a suitable place for contemplation and goes for a wander, bumping into the Cyberon. The Cyberon wants to convert the Doctor so at least there’ll be more than one of them, but it’s too badly damaged to do it – so it moves to its second protocol: kill him. A sandstorm suddenly whips up and the firing Cyberon fails to kill the doctor, merely wounding him.
A landing party has by now arrived on the planet with a squad of eight (including Olivia) and have split up into several parties. Olivia and Halloran hear the gunfire and dash towards it. Olivia wanders off and due to the sandstorm she finds the wounded Doctor first. The party catches up with them when suddenly they are fired on by the Cyberon. They return fire but four troopers are killed. Olivia advises leaving, but she is given a gun and ordered to get the Doctor back to the ship.
During the journey to the ship there’s some exposition about the humans fighting the Cyberons for 100 years, 400 billion dead, 200 billion humans converted – and yet it’s stalemate?
A trooper finds a tunnel, dug by the Cyberon and is killed by a booby trap. Halloran and the last remaining trooper realise the thing is burrowing towards the landing craft and radio Olivia. Too late, the Cyberon has got there before them and destroys it. Halloran radios the Fearless but gets only static, perhaps due to the sandstorm or perhaps due to jamming.
The Doctor, by now, is conscious and has Convenient Amnesia meaning he doesn’t identify himself and is given the appellation, Fred, thus freeing BBV from copyright problems. Halloran, Olivia, Fred and Grange now make off towards some distant fortifications.
The Cyberon – CyberSupervisor Unit DS104 – uploads a report to the Cyberon Command Net stating that humans have re-captured the planet and requests reinforcements. Unusually for a Cyberon, he feels pain.
In the fort (which was originally a human base, but later captured by the Cyberons) Olivia wakes up from a painful dream. There’s an explosion caused by the Cyberon throwing artillery shells at them from a distance. Headsets are doled out to the Doctor and Olivia. They are to split up and search the fort for anything useful while Halloran and Grange hold off the Cyberon.
Fred and Olivia find lots of bodies, mainly Cyberon. Olivia hears a Cyberon voice in her head, making a report. The Doctor hears Olivia is in some sort of trouble and rushes to her, but finds her unconscious on the floor.
Outside the firefight suddenly stops, the Cyberon has ceased attacking. Halloran and Grange wonder if it’s dead. Halloran contacts the Fearless and gets a garbled message about it leaving orbit. Halloran infers that they are having their own battle in space. Olivia radios that they’ve found something.
Fred and Olivia have located a laboratory, smashed to pieces. As Halloran has a dressing on his wounded leg changed, the Doctor ponders why he’s found an empty, sealed container. Grange questions if something dangerous might’ve escaped. The Doctor repairs a microscope and probes the container. The screen shows “nanotechs”, which the Doctor presumes are to convert humans at a molecular level.
Olivia leaves the room to make her news report. Suddenly she hears the Cyberon voice in her head again. She can feel its pain. It asks her for help. It is within the fort and meets her, pleading for her assistance. Halloran appears and there’s a brief gun battle which ends with the Cyberon’s death and the sealed container smashes.
Grange questions why Olivia was talking to the Cyberon. Outraged that they are suspicious of her, she storms off pursued by the Doctor. They have a chat, the Doctor wonders what made the Cyberon emotional.
Back in the lab the Doctor puts some Cyberon blood under the microscope, discovering a chemical inhibitor in it. As it bled the inhibitor drained away. The Doctor tries to remove its faceplate, but the Cyberon suddenly starts to move. Before they can suppress it they are stopped by Halloran, covered in metal and plastic – the nanotechs having got in through his leg wound. He holds them at bay. Cyberon DS104 was using Olivia’s implant to boost transmission of its own signal. Reinforcements are coming.
CyberHalloran, distracted by a signal from the Cyberon ship is gunned down by Grange. The surviving Cyberon is afraid and asks why. The Doctor explains and attempts to remind the emotional machine of it’s pre-Cyberon existence. The Cyberon remembers its childhood and realises Cyberons are not superior to human life. Leaving the fort, the party bumps into the Cyberon reinforcements.
The humans are manacled and taken to the Cyberon ship, to be used as guinea pigs by the Cyberons. Now repaired, Cyberon DS104 is returned to supervising duty aboard as the ship lifts off to rejoin the fleet.
In the cells, Cyberon DS104 meets the humans. Olivia is still able to mentally connect with it, the replacement inhibitor fluid has not yet taken effect. Nevertheless, it injects them as ordered. Elsewhere on the ship, Nanotechs emerge from tubes, attacking all Cyberon life. Cyberon DS104 had reprogrammed them to annihilate the Cyberons, the memory of its childhood propelling it to destroy them. Then it too, dies.
The Fearless arrives on the scene, the Doctor sets the guidance system of the Cyberon ship towards the fleet and ramming speed, and also sets the self-destruct. The humans eject in escape pods.
Some time later Olivia is reporting the rebuilding of Carson’s Planet. Grange has been promoted and the Doctor’s been successfully treated for amnesia. Meeting her outside the TARDIS, she asks
“What shall I call you?”
“Fred’s a good enough name!”
he replies. Then his ship leaves…
So obviously, as well as playing The Doctor, Nicholas Briggs also plays the Cyberon. Well why not? He has the Moogerfooger after all. The Cyberons sound exactly like a David Banks Cyberman, which is a wise decision I think. You instantly have an image in your head of a silver giant stomping around the desert. You can also spot him as a tannoy voice aboard the Fearless. Briggs is solid and dependable in this. Not a standout but a good performance.
The improbably named Helen Bang actually doesn’t appear to be a pseudonym! Here she is at imdb, but for obvious reasons she’s not easily googled. Another good performance here, but her American accent is… it’s bad. Think Peri. It was a foolish, and unnecessary, idea to make her American at all. The worst thing about faking an American accent is that if you haven’t tweaked the dialogue for an American vocabulary you’re on a hiding to nothing. Americans simply do not talk like British people, every idiom needs to be selected carefully. It’s like how Peri would refer to a Lift when realistically she should say Elevator. Helen Bang should’ve just played it with her normal accent.
Robert Boole is listed as “CyCom” which I presume to be the Cyberleader that appears near the end. No sign of a Robert Boole anywhere on the internet so I’m going to say it’s a pseudonym like David Sax is. Nicholas Briggs, obviously.
Now Andrew Fettes, who plays Halloran, definitely exists. As you can see, he’s worked a lot in Who. Unfortunately he’s playing a one-note “Grr, I hate them [enemy] a lot!” parts so really it’s not a part he can shine in. I can’t tell you if he’s any better or worse than another guy in his place. It’s simply too bland a part to arouse any interest. I will say this, however: Andrew Fettes has also gone to the Helen Bang school of accents and has pulled a Generic Scottish accent out of the box, which is extremely painful to listen to. Only someone who has no idea where Scotland is on a map will enjoy it.
Andrew James Dickens and Stephen Franklin finish off the cast but as minor, uninteresting soldiers there’s really nothing for them to get their teeth into. Oh well.
The music is good, but again there’s not much to raise interest. Sorry, I’m losing the will on this story.
You can probably tell I was less than enthused about this story. It’s a very simple story stretched over 73 minutes. There’s not
much done with the communication between the Cyberon and Olivia, this could have been fleshed out rather than the extended Exploring the Desert stuff. There’s a lot of signposting of events, as soon as we had a woman with implants in a cybernetic story you know there’s going to be secret communications but such as there is, is dull and uneventful. She’s not taken over or questioning her beliefs or anything. Halloran, however, is taken over in a matter of seconds it seems. Which is a bloody fast time to be covered in plastic and metal. It’s just unbelievable. As unbelievable as a man with a leg wound in a room where Nanos are known to be not being properly scanned, even though they say they’re scanning him!
The soldiers are given names only to then be bumped off a few seconds later. If there’s multiple characters I’m trying to recall which character is which and if I’ve remembered something only to have that knowledge become useless I feel I’ve wasted valuable thinking time. I’m not even going to talk about the amazing burrowing Cyberon – faster than a speeding bullet!
It’s a stodgy, dull story. It’s the sort of unexciting plot you’d expect in a turgid 70 low-budget ecological pot-boiler. Its as unexciting as a Dalek Empire story. Coincidentally it’s written by the same man. This could well be the beginning of my dislike for Nicholas Briggs stories. Maybe I’m being unfair. I have re-listened to all the AudioVisuals stories, many of which were by Briggs, and I actually enjoyed some of them. I just don’t think he’s a consistent writer.
And now I fear I must push some of the dreadful dialogue upon you. The first two examples are made in Fettes’s terrible Scottish accent so no matter how many times I listen, I can’t make out one of the words. Why not try to say the following in your own Bad Scottish Accent and see how awkward it is to say:
“They can run at speeds of up to 40kph for sustained periods. How are we going to match that not counting the added disadvantage of my rather undignifying wound?”
“We’ve got two choices as far as I see it: either we kill ourselves or in a couple of hours we’ll be marching about with hairdryers on our heads and blue gunge for blood. Excuse me while I decorate those [unintelligible] with the back end of my brainpan.”
“Just a minute, sergeant! Take that gun out of your mouth!”
It’s execrable. I can’t bear to listen to clunky dialogue like this. Briggs has written a lot of scripts by 1998 and should know better about such sentences. If the story wasn’t as uninteresting as this, all we needed was bad dialogue too. Ugh.
The Cyberons would return in a BBV video.
Next time: Colin Baker and Elisabeth Sladen take the BBV shilling in The Stranger Chronicles